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“The God Groove: A Blues Journey to Faith” by David Ritz

c.2019, Atria

$26.00 / $35.00 Canada

243 pages

One thing leads to another.

Isn’t that how it goes? You start somewhere and a door is opened. You enter that door and see a window. The window takes you elsewhere and each new place teaches you something different. Isn’t that the way life is — and in the new book “The God Groove” by David Ritz, isn’t that the way faith is?

Growing up in New York City, David Ritz fell in love with music. Finding it was “as easy as walking down Fifty-Second Street,” or just to his parents’ living room: Ritz’s father loved classical music and shared his passion with his son.

For Ritz, though, jazz was the thing. It was always there in New York but when he was a teen, his family moved to Dallas, where hearing jazz meant a lengthy search and at least a “ninety-minute bus trip.” One day, in his quest for good music, he stumbled upon an open door from which emanated tight harmonies and soaring voices.

He’d found a Black church, but he was reluctant to enter. Though his family had never been all that religious, the fact remained that Ritz was white and Jewish. God was a distant thought. Jesus was someone he barely knew about.

And so it continued through most of his life, until he was a married father of twin girls. He was 32 years old then, and desperate for a career change so, because he’d “become obsessed with Ray Charles’ voice,” Ritz pestered Charles to let him write the singer’s biography. That led to an opportunity with Marvin Gaye and an introduction to Aretha Franklin, who led Ritz to another jazz-and-blues singer and another and another. As each person sat down with him in interviews, the conversation often turned to religion, God, and the love inherent in Christianity.

As he was ministered to, Ritz began to listen, and he began to think. He started to see Christ in a different way, and he visited churches. And yet, he still wasn’t ready to call himself a Christian…

For a lot of reasons, “The God Groove” is a challenge to read.

The name-dropping is first on the list: author David Ritz worked with many premiere performers and they’re all in this book, which is impressive, initially, but becomes like background noise after awhile. Alas, those star-stories get tangled up in Ritz’ own tale, which can drown out his fascinating memoir; and the back-and-forth, does-he-or-doesn’t-he religious argument also goes on too long.

And yet — there’s an underlying personal change of direction that Ritz allows to run just beneath the surface of his story, as he meets flawed people and confesses his own flaws, including drug use and infidelity related to bisexuality. At the risk of spoiling, there’s a happy ending available, but getting there might be tough.

Readers who are questioning their faith may find takeaways here. Jazz fans might also like what they see but if you’re neither, you may struggle. “The God Groove” isn’t awful, you might be led to just put it aside.

Posted 12:00 am, July 19, 2019
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